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Reid files cloture on farm bill as Senate debate bogs down

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., filed cloture on the farm bill this evening and scheduled a vote on the cloture motion at 10 a.m. Thursday, when the Senate comes back into session after attending the funeral for Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., in New York City.

If the cloture motion gets the 60 votes to pass, a vote on final passage would be held Monday.

The Senate will not be in session on Wednesday, but Reid said the deadline for filing amendments on the farm bill will be 1 p.m. on Wednesday and the deadline for second-degree amendments will be at 9:45 a.m. on Thursday.

After the cloture vote on the farm bill and two cloture votes on the student loan bills, the Senate is expected to go out of session.

Lautenberg’s casket will arrive in Washington on Thursday and will lie in state in the Senate chamber before burial at Arlington Cemetery on Friday.

Although Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said earlier today that agreement on amendments could be reached by Thursday and the cloture motion vitiated, agreement did not seem within sight this evening.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., spent most of the afternoon debating amendments and procedures. Landrieu said she is objecting to any Republican amendments until she gets a vote on her amendment #1113 to keep flood insurance rates in place for three years until a study is done.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La.

Landrieu said she has agreed to a 60-vote threshold on passage and noted that the Congressional Budget Office has said it would not cost more money. She noted that Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., has objected to it. Toomey in a floor speech said he is concerned about senators being able to offer amendments.

Coburn tried to bring up several amendments, but Landrieu — and at times Stabenow on behalf of Landrieu — objected. Landrieu also suggested that amendments #1113, 1117, 1159 and 1097 be brought up for votes at 5 p.m., but there was objection.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.

Unable to convince the Senate to proceed to votes on amendments, Coburn talked about his amendments to end conservation payments to people who make more than $1 million per year. Stabenow said that amendment has already been incorporated into the bill, and his amendment to require the Rural Utilities Service to make sure grants and loans are made only to areas that don’t already have access.

Coburn also discussed an amendment he has sponsored with Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, for a pilot project to allow two states to set nutrition standards for food purchases under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Coburn said that the consumption of certain foods causes diseases that lead to additional federal health expenditures, and noted that food companies don't like his measure.

It would be interesting, Coburn said, to know whether SNAP beneficiaries subject to higher nutrition standards would have better health. Coburn also said that computer companies had assured him that the pilot project could be done technically through the use of bar codes.

Coburn proposed a unanimous consent that all amendments offered on the farm bill be considered ready for votes. Stabenow said that “as manager of the bill” she appreciated his advice, but that the Senate could not take up the more than 150 amendments that have been offered.

Coburn said the Senate was not taking up all amendments because there are some on which senators do not wish to speak, and that the Senate’s behavior was not “of good moral character.”